999 ARE A heavy-pop quartet signed favourably to United Artists. They are, in effect, on the verge of some kind of breakthrough. A likeable bunch of characters – nothing too awesome – they’ve a solid repertoire of hard, slamming standards, and, most noticeably, a worthy emerging talent for introducing swooping, melodic overtones to their originally limited one dimension punk-chunks.
This much can be ascertained from their new single, ‘Emergency’, and a new song ‘Don’t Deny’, both of which indicate elements of necessary advancement.
There are swerves, hooks, even some tough funk, traces of refreshing anti-nostalgia pop, and some unashamedly commercial exploring. 999, in their own way, are evolving, establishing an identity, maintaining commitment to entertain.
In Amsterdam, a city that wearily exhibits a remarkably clean sterile veneer by sweeping ‘dirt’ expensively out of sight and allowing gruesomely gratuitous liberalism little could be detected of 999’s potential and merits through a thick atmosphere of tension and impending violence.
There was an impression of Dutch youth suffering an inferiority complex, culture-less, just tagging along. And there was an absurd, apparently unsuppressable threat from a gang of, would you believe, Hells Angels – the ‘dirt’ that is swept out of sight by a Dutch government content for some very curious reason to avoid rather than destroy.
The gig was at the Paradiso Club, a wondrous gothic shambles, high and wide, with stained-glass windows, a perfect rock’n’roll venue. But a handful of the grubby thugs arrived during 999’s soundcheck, their attendance at the club having apparently been recently encouraged by a rock group of dubious strain who seemingly share these morons’ obnoxious idea that a woman’s place is on her knees sucking.
Said group also invited the clan to a number of gigs, thus inserting the notion that there’s a place for them at punk/etc gigs.
999 group members were treated to such party games as flick knives opened at their throats, being flung playfully across the room, and being expected to “laugh it off.”
Ha ha ha. Great fun, wanna break my left arm now. He he he.
That these men were to be present while 999 performed caused not a little apprehension.
“What could I do to keep them out?” The club owner pointlessly and sorrowfully shrugged his shoulders, nervously displaying what seem to me to be the typical evasion tactics of the Dutch when confronted directly with the problem.
What indeed? The Angels are bribed/awarded a grant/what ever you want to term it – being handed money by the Government to keep away from the city centre, and play and ‘live’ in a specially constructed building on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Faced with such an idealistic but highly suspicious compromise the Dutch people have little idea of what to do when the Angels venture into the centre for amusement, as they are beginning to do after four years of uneasy exile.
999 commenced their interrupted, precariously balanced set in front of a good 500 audience while Angels stood ominously and self-importantly at the side of the stage. They charged with uncanny intuitive speed through a few routines that, despite limited constituents, threatened to provoke pure exilaration. The audience exploded and the whole evening looked set to be reality good.
Unfortunately, perhaps through jealousy at not being the centre of attraction, the Angels rambled about the stage. One thug, paralytic, made continual attempts to become a fifth member of the group, clawing an imaginary guitar. Singer Nick Cash stared straight ahead, disguising pure fear so well.
Odd ‘playful’ scuffles broke out between Angels, and at one stage the entire audience scattered as an Angel tumbled into their midst.
The fear and frustration was tangible, but 999, almost inspired, battled on while the crowd slowly and warily returned to their positions.
Eventually the P. A. was ruptured by an Angel. Cash, ever so discreetly, mimed the cause and his disgust with the thugs with a quick series of pseudo-tough guy poses. Lucky for him the Angels were too wrapped up in themselves to notice.
The group left the stage and it could easily have been assumed that they’d gone for good. The audience ambled unsurely about, and a few departed. Their supressed agitation was demonstrated when a foolhardy Dutch youth aimed a pathetic, derisory slap at an Angel. He was last spotted crumpled underneath a wooden plank as three thugs bounced up and down on top of him.
Then after a lengthy interval, 999 unexpectedly returned to courageously continue. Some more loud and decisively honed ‘shorts’ were blasted out, deadpan and necessarily absorbed. Cash looked almost comfortable despite the Angels’ continued pestering presence – a thickset, chunky-looking fellow who looked best when he discarded guitar to just sing on the fine ‘Emergency’.
‘Emergency’ was performed with all the channelled ferocity of the old 999 tunes, but had an imaginative arrangement, and, quite simply, more than just one or two ideas…999’s light at the end of the tunnel (-riffing).
The audience, though, were in no real mood to distinguish between texture and thrash, and just wanted to be entertained (when allowed) by the ‘poonk’. I only noticed because the difference between ‘Emergency’ (and ‘Don’t Deny’) and some other 999 goodies is so marked and interesting.
In Amsterdam all that could be immediately discerned was 999’s commitment to continue to play’n’please in face of demoralising adversity but they emphatically left a print of ‘potential’. Watch ’em.
Afterwards a few Angels were spotted being driven off in a police van. A night in jail for them? Someone actually prepared to testify against them? “No”, someone ventured. “They’re probably being given a lift home.”
© Paul Morley, New Musical Express, 18 February 1978